Paddlefish revival under way in Chautauqua Lake

What has the smooth grayish skin of a catfish, with beady little eyes and a long paddle-shaped snout?

The answer is a paddlefish!

What is a paddlefish? According to a press release from Deb Everts, Community Editor for The Salamanca Press, the paddlefish is one of the oldest and largest fish of North America and lives only in rivers that drain into the Mississippi River.

The fish reportedly looks like a cross between a shark and a swordfish, but has no teeth and feeds exclusively on plankton and aquatic insect larvae that it filters from the water.

Back in mid-July, the Randolph Fish Hatchery released 1,050 paddlefish into Chautauqua Lake – at Bemus Point – Conewango Creek – at Kennedy – and the Allegheny Reservoir – at the Onoville Marina.

Paddlefish, which are an endangered species, had to be transported by a specially equipped truck, by fish culturist Barry Hohmann, from the Oneida Fish Hatchery, where the eggs were hatched. The New York Hatcheries have been stocking the three waterways for 14 years now.

Region 9 aquatic biologist Mike Clancey explained that the paddlefish were native to the Allegheny River with records of their presence dating back to the 1800’s. By the 1900’s, industrialization and pollutants wiped them out from Western New York. The Clean Water Act of 1972 helped clean up much of the waterways in New York, which enabled the success in the comeback of this unique fish. However, the Kinzua Dam prevents the passsage of the fish to get back into our area.

According to Clancy, the University of Kentucky offered paddlefish eggs in the 1990’s and New York started stocking them in 1990. At first, only 48 fish were stocked, but some years the numbers vary between 100 and in the thousands. The last three years the Department of Environmental Conservation has changed the fish’s diet and they are having better luck raising them.

According to Clancy, the Randolph Hatchery has stocked over 12,000 fish in the Kinzua Reservoir. However, they lose about 20 percent of the fish through the dam passage, but they are found in the river below. Many of them survive going through the gates but they are not able to get back up into the reservoir.

By report, the fish do not mature until they are 12-14 years of age so the DEC has hopes that the earliest stocked females will be ready for natural reproduction in the Allegheny River in the near future, which is the ultimate goal of the paddlefish stocking effort. The fish are unique only to the Allegheny River in New York State. The largest recorded paddlefish was found in Chautauqua Lake in the 1800’s and weighed 125 pounds and measured 78 inches long.

Locally, in the Allegheny River paddlefish have been caught that are five-feet long and weigh 50 pounds. According to Clancey, it is illegal to capture a paddlefish and keep it because they are protected in New York and Pennsylvania. There is no season on them and and you cannot fish for them or capture them. Paddlefish are also found in China.

Calendar:

Southtowns Walleye Association will be conducting their next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 19 at their club house located at 5895 Southwestern Boulevard in Hamburg. Guest speaker for the evening will be Kevin L. Kapuscinski talking about ” Ecology and Management of Muskellunge.” The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. The event is free.

Charles Alsheimer, renowned wildlife photographer/writer and editor of Deer & Deer Hunting Magazine, will return to our area to present his new video program “Whitetails, A Photographic Journey Through The Seasons.” Alsheimer will be the guest speaker at the West Portland Baptist Church sportsmen’s dinner, held at the Mission Meadows Camp located on Route 430 in Dewittville. This facility has a smaller capacity than the previous building so the committee is limiting the tickets to 250 people. There will be a nominal fee of $5 per ticket. This event is likely to sell out so the committee requests you order your tickets as soon as possible. To order, email WestPortlandBC@fairpoint.net or call 326-3417.

The event is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27. The doors will open at 5 p.m., with dinner served at 5:45 p.m., and the presentation around 7 p.m. A number of wild game specialties are usually available as well as some superb home cooking from the ladies on the committee. If you would like to bring a dish to pass, it would be appreciated. You can make your checks for this event payable to West Portland Baptist Church mailed to West Portland Baptist Church, 7081 E. Route 20, Westfield, N.Y. 14787.

Emilio Rende, the Senior Wildlife Biologist, Stewardship & Land Mgt. Coordinator, Upland Game Birds, Bureau of Wildlife for NYS DEC Region 9, 182 East Union St., Suite 3 requests anyone who participated in the summer turkey survey to please submit their survey sheets to him care of the supplied address as soon as possible.

FREE fly tying and fly fishing classes will resume on Monday evenings at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club, starting Monday, Sept. 16 from 6-8 p.m. Fly tyers at all stages are invited to attend, from beginners to experts. The Monday night tyers will provide fly tying vises and all materials for anyone who would like to learn how to tie a fly or how to start fly fishing. Ken Hollander and Willie Fedrick, along with guest tyers, will provide the know how, in a safe enjoyable facility located at the Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club on Mullet Street in Dunkirk. Note this group of fly tyers made their services available at the Great Lakes Experience, The “Con Club Take-A-Kid Fishing day” and at the Chautauqua County Fair grounds in the Conservation Building. You get to keep what you tie and will receive one-on-one attention. No registration required, just show up!

Upcoming trapping classes – Falconer Rod & Gun Club located on the Buffalo Street extension in Falconer, Wednesday Sept. 25 from 6-10 p.m., returning on Friday Sept. 27 from 6-10 p.m. Register at first class. Limited to 30 students.

Trapping class at Westfield Fish & Game on Oct. 4 from 6-10 p.m., returning on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Call Rich at 595-3917 for a work book. Limited to 35 students.

Gene Pauszek is an OBSERVER outdoors columnist. Send comments to sports@observertoday.com.